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Sneezes So Fellow Students Can Say "God Bless you" at
Graduation Where Prayer was Prohibited-Truth!
Summary of the eRumor The email doesn't mention
a time or place, but describes a graduation ceremony where prayer
had been banned because of a court decision. All the
participants were careful to stay within the guidelines until the
final speech when a student merely stood before the
microphone...then sneezed! The room was filled with the voices
of students who responded with "God Bless you," a sneaky
way of invoking a blessing. Another version says the students
all sneezed so the graduation speaker could say "God bless
Although written in a way that feels
like inspirational fiction and without the factual details, this is
based on a true incident. It was a widely-publicized
controversy surrounding the 2001 graduation ceremonies of Washington
School in Peoria, Illinois. According to an Associated Press
report from May 17, 2001, student-led prayer was going to be allowed
at the graduation but a lawsuit was filed by the American Civil
Liberties Union and the senior valedictorian, Natasha Appenheimer.
On virtually the eve of graduation, they won a court injunction that
banned any prayer at the event. It was the first time in the
school's 80 year history that a prayer would not be offered.
Natasha was booed by the audience when she received her
diploma. Another student, Ryan Brown, was one of the
speakers. He paused during his speech to bow his head and pray
silently. The Peoria Journal Star newspaper said that after
the silent prayer, Ryan "feigned a sneeze" so the audience
could respond with a "God bless you."
last updated 5/27/02
A real example of the eRumor as it has
appeared on the Internet:
They walked in tandem, each of the ninety-three students
filing into the already crowded auditorium. With rich maroon gowns
flowing and the traditional caps, they looked almost as grown up as they
Dads swallowed hard behind broad smiles, and moms
freely brushed away tears.
This class would not pray during the commencements;
not by choice, but because of a recent court ruling prohibiting it. The
principal and several students were careful to stay within the
guidelines allowed by the ruling.
They gave inspirational and challenging speeches, but
no one mentioned divine guidance and no one asked for blessings on the
graduates or their families.
The speeches were nice, but they were routine; until
the final speech received a standing ovation.
A solitary student walked proudly to the microphone.
He stood still and silent for just a moment, and then he delivered his
speech----a resounding sneeze!The
rest of the students rose immediately to their feet, and in unison they
said, "God bless you."
The audience exploded into applause. The graduating
class found a unique way to invoke God's blessing on their
future----with or without the court's approval.
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